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Live From PMA's 2019 Fresh Summit: Trends, Tech and Traceability

Trade group CEO Cathy Burns eyes the future at the conference
Photograph courtesy of PMA

Produce industry trends and technology have leapt forward in just 12 short months since the last Produce Marketing Association (PMA) Fresh Summit Conference & Expo, said PMA CEO Cathy Burns in her "Forum for the Future—State of the Industry" presentation on Oct. 17 at the Anaheim Convention Center in Anaheim, Calif.

Burns’ forward looking presentation addressed the top trends, innovations, challenges and solutions facing the produce industry. In part one of WGB’s coverage of the event, we recap five of PMA’s critical topics for the future of produce.

Technology will continue to revolutionize the in-store experience for consumers,” said Burns, pointing to Swiss technology firm Scandit, which seeks to empower shoppers with in-store augmented reality. Burns explained how it works: When customers aim their smartphones at a grocery shelf, icons will pop up letting them know what products meet their dietary needs.

At Walmart’s Intelligent Retail Lab, overhead cameras monitor availability and alert clerks via a text when a product is out of stock. “Imagine a produce department that is never out of stock of any item. Imagine what that could mean for sales, margins and customer satisfaction,” Burns said.

During last year’s address, Burns mentioned that Ford was working on driverless delivery for food orders. This year, she shared a video showing Ford’s driverless food delivery, complete with a robot that steps out of the van and carries the delivery to the recipient’s front door.  

“Technology in all forms really help to transform the consumer experience,” Burns said. “But it’s not just about technology for technology sake, it’s really about solving a consumer pain point.”

Sustainability continues to resonate. Consumers worldwide are demanding more socially and environmentally responsible practices from businesses, said Burns, who cited a study that found 72% of consumers expect socially responsible commitments from their grocery retailers.

“It’s now up to us to deliver on those expectations of responsibility and sustainability throughout the food supply chain,” said Burns. European grocers such as Sainsbury and Ahold Delhaize are leading the charge on plastics. They are both examples of retailers that have either banned plastic bags for produce or are testing plastic-free options. Burns further noted that Lidl has introduced reusable fruit and vegetable bags in its stores across the U.K.

Food waste remains a hot topic in retail and foodservice, Burns said. About one-third of the world’s food supply winds up in the trash. “But technology and better data could help solve this,” she added. Better data could help to reduce the $47 billion in food retailer waste each year.

“One store-level solution is already in the market,” Burns told the audience. The Flash Foods mobile app allows shoppers to find and buy foods, including fresh produce, that is approaching its best-buy date for up to a 50% discount. Loblaws, Sobeys, Longo Brothers and Hy-Vee are all participants in the program.

Regenerative agriculture, which seeks to keep nutrients and carbon contained within the soil, is a particularly strong area of ag-tech investment, Burns shared with attendees. Investment in ag-tech, in general, reached a record-breaking $16.9 billion last year. Meanwhile, regenerative agriculture has received so much attention of late, over the next 30 years it is estimated that $700 billion worth of investment in the movement will ultimately return $10 trillion. Companies such as General Mills are embracing regenerative agriculture and investing in programs.

Transparency is huge. “AI, machine learning, traceability and block chain allow for transparency in how we conduct business in the food supply chain, which ultimately builds consumer trust,” said Burns. “Speaking of traceability, if you have not implemented PTI case labeling and data storage, please do not wait. I can’t stress this enough. Do not wait.”

With the expected September release of the traceability rules from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration next year, more buyers will pilot or implement block chain traceability and supply chain visibility solutions, continued Burns.

With this in mind, Newark, Del.-based PMA has entered a three-year strategic partnership with Los Gatos, Calif.-based SVG Ventures to connect growers with cutting-edge technology solutions. The partnership, said Burns, seeks to take “critical next steps to addressing the big questions of how we overcome our current food production to ultimately grow a healthier world.”


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